Horticultural therapy

Horticultural therapy supports people who suffer from physical disability, mental health issues and/or acquired brain injury through accident, tumours etc.  It works through the therapeutic medium of Horticulture, through listening, being valued, having vocation, a chance to socialise, participate, achieve, have a place, be a person.

There are many activities in the garden that can facilitate rehabilitation and recovery.  This worksheet focuses on the process of seeding through to harvesting in connection with the life cycle, considering achievement potential, reflection on life changes and plant/personal growth ie harvesting the mental health benefit of seeds of inclusion, value and hope;  planting seeds reflecting hope for the future!


Supporting people toward recovery – that is recovery as moving forward into a more satisfying and meaningful life for that person; it is not measured by absence of diagnosis.

Prevention of worsening mental health.

To encourage feelings of value and achievement;  recognition of personal growth / recovery;  harvesting greater well being in the participants.


For seeding:

Seeds of your choice, seed tray, soil, soil sieve, watering can, water, labels, pen.

For transplanting:

Individual pots or seed trays for seedlings, soil, secateurs, watering can, water, labels, pen.

For planting:

A suitable patch of ground, a rake, a trowel, string, stakes, watering can, water, labels, pen.

For harvesting:

A gardening fork, a container to put the harvested vegetables in.


An open area with seating for talking and reflection.

Some refreshments.


In order to be effective, these activities should be carried out in sequence, not stand alone activities - therapeutic improvements follow more long term activities and attendance.  Before starting, talk to your group about how the cycle of plant growth might relate to life.  How planting the seeds can bring hope for the future.  How the growth of the plant relates to personal growth.  When you have a break or at the end of the session, reflect on these processes in relation to recovery and life.


  • Sieve some soil / compost into a seed tray, about two thirds full.
  • Sprinkle the seeds onto the soil, either from the seed packet or from the palm of your hand.  If the seeds are larger, use your finger to make a small hole in the sole for the seed to lay in.
  • Sieve some more soil / compost over the top of the seeds.
  • Water.
  • Write a label and insert it into the tray so you know what the seeds are.


  • Fill the individual pots or seed tray with soil / compost.
  • Ease a seedling out of its tray and trim the roots.
  • Plant the seedling into the new pot.
  • Water.
  • Prepare a label and insert it into the pot.


  • Rake the soil over, so that it is soft and loose for the plants.
  • Using the string and stakes, make a line that you can plant the seedlings against.
  • Using the trowel measure a distance away from the edge of the of the ground and plant your first plant.
  • Plant the rest of the seedlings along the line around 6-8 inches apart (or you can use the trowel to measure the distance again – just make sure it is the same distance).
  • Measure a new line 8 inches away from the first one and plant another row.
  • Keep on measuring new lines and planting until all the seedlings are in the ground.


  • Using the gardening fork, gently ease the vegetables out of the ground and lift them out.


To evaluate the benefits, the impact and the therapeutic results of Horticultural activities addressed to disabled people is a long and structured process, which requires a scientific approach.

The evaluation and the possibility to register improvement to beneficiaries in terms of abilities, developed skills and stress reduction can bring added value to the Institutional and formal recognition of this practice as a health and social treatment.

The value and good results of Horticultural therapy is not so well recognized throughout Europe, but the evaluation studies carried out by the operatives involved in this field are raising awareness of the practice and its effects on the target group.

There are many fields of evaluation, each worker can create their own evaluation form, starting from his/her reality and adapt it to the activity he/she carries out with the beneficiaries.

Here you can find 3 different evaluation forms (downloadable from the dedicated section) that can help and inspire you in doing evaluation activities with your own beneficiaries.

Horticultural activity can be evaluated by looking at three characteristics:

Horticultural therapy as a rehabilitation tool

In the specificity of the educator’s professional work, the educational intervention aims to guarantee the right of each user to realize his/her life and his/her personal development in the concrete spaces and times of the everyday life. Horticultural therapy represents a valid tool for the improvement of the relational, social, fine and gross motor skills,  the attitudes related to training work and behavioural problems; for this it contributes to the development of the quality of life inside a project of social inclusion.

Through the evaluation form given to the users, before and after the therapeutic intervention, it’s possible to monitor the progress and the mastery of certain skills and ability.

The experience in this field strengthens and confirms the hypothesis that horticultural therapy is a valid and effective tool that can contribute to any individual rehabilitation project.

(Evaluation form – Download)

Horticultural therapy as vocational training

It’s important to underline that horticultural therapy is not only a therapeutic tool for people suffering from severe disabilities, but it can be seen as a vocational training pathway for people at risk of marginalization and social exclusion, who may have less acute diseases and disabilities.

To prepare the heart, seeding, planting, transplanting, harvesting, are work activities, characterized by clear and defined phases and timing. It’s possible to create vocational training projects with specific and qualifying purposes related to the job insertion of people with disabilities and to evaluate the progression of the acquired competencies and skills.

(Evaluation form – Download)

Users’ satisfaction of the Horticultural activities

The horticultural activities are planned to respond to the users’ abilities, desires and needs in terms of timing and possibilities. It’s important to know the perception and the satisfaction of the users related to the developed activities. The evaluation of the user’s satisfaction allows the operatives, and  others responsible for the activities, to verify the effectiveness of the educational intervention.  This also permits monitoring of the work done in order to improve its quality and effectiveness for use in future projects..

(Evaluation form – Download)


Always have a variety of activities planned to accommodate different circumstances that may arise, such as rain or people completing some tasks sooner than others.  Work in the greenhouse has the advantage of being in a safe and controlled environment and is not very tiring, also good for bad weather.

Thematic gardens work especially well for people with physical disabilities.  Try using plants with different features to create thematic paths or gardens.  Create a perfumed garden with aromatic plants;  or a simple garden with officinal plants;  or a natural garden with spontaneous plants;  or a perceptual garden with plants that can stimulate sight, touch, smell and taste.

Selling produce to the public can give a sense of achievement.